Shikoku Pilgrimage: Final Thoughts

After blogging daily about my pilgrimage, I failed to write anything about my last day on the trail, or any final thoughts. It’s been three months since I returned, and I feel obligated to do some kind of wrap-up.

First, just a bit about the final day. I really can’t say enough good things about the amazing hospitality of the Japanese people. These lovely ladies gave me coffee and fed me a snack.

Then I ran into my favorite henro, Kouji-san. We spent the day hiking together. He was kind enough to share his o-henro supplies with me, so together we performed the temple rituals of chanting, lighting candles, burning incense, and making an offering. He also took a gazillion pictures of me doing various tourist-y things. Here’s a few of them.

OK, so on to the final thoughts, my hard-earned wisdom, my personal reflections.

Physically, I was plenty prepared
I was really worried about tackling the pilgrimage. Blisters. Exhaustion. Hills. Foot pain. Mountains. But I was totally fine. I’m sure glad I trained, but clearly, my training was sufficient for the journey.

I could have tackled longer distances
Something more in the range of 20-25 km a day would have been more comfortable. I ended up with a lot of extra time to kill on the trail or in the afternoon, after arriving at my lodging. My longest (and, as it turned out, hilliest) day was in that range, and it felt fine.

Favorite gear? Hiking poles and safari hat
I loved the hiking poles. Balance and stability are my biggest concerns. They were great on downhills, and helped spread out the physical effort on uphills. And the hat I took was super lightweight; I never felt like I had it on. But it kept the sun out of my eyes and off my face.

Advice for other pilgrims? It’s worth learning katakana
Katakana is one of three Japanese scripts, and is used for writing foreign-origin words, (most of which are English words). Learning katakana means you can read some things on menus and signs. I mean, knowing katakana isn’t going to help you in case of emergency, or allow you to communicate with people. But it’s nice to be able to read a few things here and there.

I got super lucky with weather
Okay, so this last item isn’t helpful for future pilgrims. But a week with sunny skies and temps in the 50s in the morning up to low 70s at mid-day … it doesn’t get much more perfect.

That’s all for now, folks!

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